Offering Form 1040 in Spanish for the first time is a “huge” step forward in bridging a longtime unnecessary gap between taxpayers and the agency that serves them, IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig said.
The Internal Revenue Service announced in September that it was “taking a number of aggressive steps” to reach out to underserved communities, including asking taxpayers on the 1040 to indicate their preferred language of contact from the agency.
The document “Publication 1, Your Rights as a Taxpayer” is also now available in 20 languages, and “Publication 17, Your Federal Income Tax,” will be reaching taxpayers in Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Korean and Chinese (simplified and traditional) in addition to English. Phone interpreter services at the IRS are available in 350 languages. The agency has also expanded its multilingual outreach on social media platforms.
Rettig told the Government Technology & Services Coalition’s IRS Week 2021 on Wednesday that the changes are not only critical in terms of reaching taxpayers but protecting taxpayers, as people with a filing requirement often reach out to a tax preparer for help yet “a lot of underserved communities are preyed on by preparers.”
“You need to operate in their world, in their language, in their community,” he said.
The commissioner also stressed the importance of being an agency “of the people, by the people, for the people,” demonstrated in IRS efforts working with agencies and shelters to ensure that the homeless receive and are able to cash their crucial economic impact payments distributed as part of COVID-19 relief – partnerships that “really make a difference for people not served at all.”
“I’m a huge believer in public-private partnerships,” he said. “I’m a huge believer of giving back to this country.”
Rettig said the agency was “put on our heels” by the pandemic, as a year ago he chose to shut down IRS facilities in the peak of filing season. The agency began competing to secure laptops for employees, and as facilities reopened with social distancing guidelines competition was stiff to secure materials such as signage and personal protective equipment.
The IRS also interacted with other federal agencies and tax administrators around the world on COVID best practices, and Rettig proudly said his agency played a leadership role. “We shared a lot more information than we received,” he said. And despite the rapid shift to telework that could have created system vulnerabilities, the IRS did not experience any cyber breaches in 2020.
The agency also was ready for quick disbursement of the third round of economic impact payments to qualified households included in the COVID-19 stimulus package signed by President Biden last week.
“It was quite a year,” Rettig said, adding he’s “very proud – the best of the best came out of our people.”